Cravings are powerful. They can hit at any time, anywhere and often when we least expect them.
Food is an aphrodisiac for our emotions. Many times we eat to feel better, but we often feel worse.
The aggressive dynamics of the craving cycle take place subconsciously, and often choices are made in a split second.
You’ve had a bad day, you’re emotionally charged and feeling self-doubt, anxiety, fear or tension. Or maybe you’re just bored, tired or lonely. Your first thought is to food. Comfort. You want to satisfy that deep, dark hole in your chest.
You want something indulgent and sweet, or rich and filled with carbohydrates. Maybe you’re a salt fiend.
All of a sudden, the deep cravings are triggered. You feel as though it takes control of every cell in your body. You must have it. There might be a brief debate in your mind: "No, I can’t! Yes, I must!"
The decision is made almost immediately. You’re consumed with the thought of the food. The first bite is ecstasy. You spin out of control and nothing else matters in that moment other than the high. You have blinders on to the world. You can’t stop. Then… it’s gone.
You look down at the bag, the carton, the plate…and realize you ate it all. You have no recollection of eating. But you ate a lot. You’re disgusted.
The guilt sets in. The tyrant. The voice of regret. I can’t believe I did that. I’m awful. Hopeless. How will I ever get better if I can’t control myself? I’m not going to eat all day now.
The painful thoughts and negative voice make us feel so bad. We feel like a failure.
And the craving cycle begins again.
The momentum of a craving cycle is so strong that it can be compared to surfing. You’re caught up in this huge wave of desire. You want to ride it, and all of a sudden you’re 50 feet up, being hurled into the air. You smash back into the water and are caught under the current like a rag doll. It’s not until you surface that you realize you’re hurt.
Sometimes the consequences of emotional and mindless eating are severe and can affect physical and mental health, finances and relationships. Sometimes the effects are less dramatic. Maybe we detach from the eating experience rather than pay attention to what we’re eating, how it makes us feel in the moment and what it tastes like.
The more we give in to our cravings, the stronger they become.
To begin overcoming your craving cycle, you must start to understand it’s origin. Why do you do it? Is there even a reason? Learning to acknowledge, out loud, how it makes you feel and what the experience is like can create an awareness that is the first step to being able to prevent overeating.
Start with a short meditation to begin to build awareness. Close your eyes and take a few deep, slow breaths. Then explore and reflect on these questions. Allow ample time to consider these, even writing down your answers. Here are some questions to ask yourself:
- Have you ever found yourself staring at an empty plate, without any awareness of having eaten the food that was just on it?
- Do you wonder why, no matter how committed you are to healthy and mindful eating, you eventually slide back into your old eating pattern?
- When you try to comfort yourself with your favorite food, often lots of it, do you tend to feel worse?
- When you’re in the grip of craving a certain food, do you feel that you have no choice, that you’re obsessed and you don’t care about the consequences?
- After binging or overeating, do you even feel like you’re being beaten up or condemned by critical and cruel thoughts, to such an extent that you give up even trying?
Think about your own cravings cycle. Do you get blinded by them? Start to think about what your triggers are for overeating and jot them down.
Don’t try to get rid of your voices of desire, but rather become aware of your triggers, your inner critic and cravings. Acknowledge your struggle. Acknowledge the feelings it brings up. Awareness is a form of mindfulness in action.
Understanding your craving cycle is the first step to your healing process.
The more you’re able to break the craving cycle, the less control it will have over you. Ride out your craving waves in a safe place. Feel the emotions crash over you. Acknowledge them, but don’t give in to them. It may physically hurt to sit it out. It may be an emotional roller coaster, but you can do it.
Ride that wave until you feel the calm. Take deep breathes. You’ve done it.